The Musée d'Orsay acquires a rare painting by an original Irish follower of Van Gogh

The Musée d'Orsay acquires a rare painting by Roderic O'Conor, an Irish follower of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. There are few of his paintings in public collections.

The Musée d’Orsay has succeeded in acquiring a rare work by Roderic O’Conor (Castleplunket, 1860 - Nueil-sur-Layon, 1940), a singular Irish artist and follower of Gauguin and Van Gogh: it is a canvas titled Garçon breton de prof il (“Breton Boy in Profile”), which is also important because few works by O’Conor are held in public collections. The painting will enrich the post-Impressionist collection and particularly that of the Pont-Aven School.

The work dates from the years when O’Conor stayed in Brittany, in Pont-Aven and Pouldu, between 1891 and 1893: during these years he painted some important landscapes, as well as portraits of young Bretons, including the work just acquired by the Musée d’Orsay. O’Conor had come to France with the idea of studying the art of the Impressionists, but his paintings changed radically after he became acquainted with the works of Gauguin. In France, O’Conor frequented artists such as Armand Seguin, Erico Forbes-Robertson, Cuno Amiet and Emile Bernard. The latter in particular was instrumental for O’Conor because he introduced him toVan Gogh’s art by showing the Irish artist twenty-two letters Bernard had received from the Dutch painter: some of the missives contained drawings that made a deep impression on O’Conor.

However, O’Conor was no mere imitator, but proposed original solutions from contact with his ideal masters. The Breton Boy reveals this: executed in Pont-Aven, the portrait makes use of a very dense and layered impasto, so that several areas of the work appear almost in relief. It is a work that required a great deal of work, much of it done in the studio. The subject matter is not original because other Pont-Aven artists had painted Bretons in costume (although O’Conor was nonetheless among the first), but it is innovative in the stylistic solutions adopted, particularly the oblique streaks of juxtaposed complementary colors that give light and relief to the work and are a typical feature of the Irish painter’s art. The shapes are thus constructed through rays of solid colors that are juxtaposed to create simplified yet almost archetypal forms, in this case of the rural reality of late 19th-century Brittany.

The painting, which cost 200,000 euros, raised in part through the support of the association Amis des Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, had last been exhibited in public in 1957, only to be brought to the Tefaf fair in Maastricht in 2020 by gallerist Jean-Luc Baroni, from whom the Paris museum purchased it. The canvas will be presented at Galerie Françoisa Cachin, on the museum’s fifth floor, when the French museums reopen.

Image: Roderic O’Conor, Garçon breton de profil (1893; oil on canvas, 38.1 x 44.5 cm; Paris, Musée d’Orsay)

The Musée d'Orsay acquires a rare painting by an original Irish follower of Van Gogh
The Musée d'Orsay acquires a rare painting by an original Irish follower of Van Gogh

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